Ask Mayor Miller: Tax rollback coming, cameras to combat crime, new affordable housing, airport expansion to bring jobs

Macon-Bibb Mayor Lester Miller sits down monthly with the Center for Collaborative Journalism so send your questions to [email protected]

Macon-Bibb County Mayor Lester Miller expects the county to have the lowest property tax rate in the region in coming years due to the revenue coming in from an extra penny collected on the dollar in the Other Local Option Sales Tax, or OLOST. (at 0:35 in video)

During taping of the Center for Collaborative Journalism‘s Ask Mayor Miller program at 13WMAZ, Miller said he expects to be able to shave off 5 mills from the property tax rate in the 2023-2024 fiscal year with money collected in the OLOST that will allow a rollback. When he took office in 2021, the tax rate was 20.33 mills, which dropped to 19 that summer and down to 17.9 mills at the start of the 2022-2023 fiscal year. Miller anticipates the property tax rate to be 12.9 or lower for the next fiscal year.

“Taxes are going down. We’re going to probably get into close to the single digits in a couple of years, which is unheard of, and we’ll be the least-taxed county in all of Middle Georgia for sure,” Miller said

Crime and Public Safety

Mayor Miller said the revenue from the first year of collecting the OLOST provided $40 million in incentive pay to hire and retain public safety workers. (1:25 on video)

Filling law enforcement vacancies has been a priority and Miller says progress is being made in battling violent crime. He plans to install surveillance cameras in high-crime areas and car license plate readers in strategic locations. New initiatives for drug and gang task forces also are planned after a record 70 homicides in 2022, he said.

“We’re getting very focused on our crime,” Miller said. “I do believe that we reached a high last year… a plateau on the crime and homicides that we have. And I expect to see some good progress in that over the next 12 to 18 months. So that’s very exciting news.”

Jobs and Economic Development

The recent groundbreaking for the runway extension of Middle Georgia Regional Airport has been 40 years in the making as a strategic move to lure more industry and economic development. (16:45 on video)

“It’s a game-changer,” Miller said. “That’s really an understatement of what it means for economic development for our community.”

The 600-foot expansion to bring the runway from 6,500 feet to 7,100 feet is not only significant for passenger airlines but for the future growth of industries such as Dean Baldwin Painting which could recruit larger planes for a fresh coat of paint. Plus, new maintenance hangars are expected to bring more aerospace jobs to Middle Georgia.

“Our students can get those jobs and that’s why we’re working with our College and Career Academy, Central Technical College, Middle Georgia State University, all of our universities, to make sure that our kids are trained to get their jobs,” Miller said. “Those are good quality jobs. What better way to lift people out of poverty and to take care of some of this crime we have?”

Enhanced airport facilities could also house private airplanes which means Macon-Bibb would reap the benefits of ad valorem taxes on those planes, Miller said.

Affordable Housing

Workers need homes and Macon-Bibb County is tackling the affordable housing dilemma by launching a new revolving loan program with $7.5 million dollars, Miller said. (7:50 in video)

“Give attractive interest rates for developers to build affordable housing. And we’re going to hold those people who are getting that money accountable for affordable housing and make sure it’s truly affordable to the people like our police, our fire, our teachers that need it the most,” he said. “So we’ve got to get those people out of the extended stay places into real homes. We want a good mixture of not only people who rent, but we need some good homeowners as well to provide stability in these neighborhoods.”

The Brookdale Resource Center for the homeless community, which is run by United Way of Central Georgia, also is expanding to provide more opportunities to get folks off the streets. Miller says it’s part of a larger effort of “rethinking homelessness.”

“Our non-profits are really rallying together,” he said. “We want to get the most chronically (homeless) people that we can off the streets and get them into permanent housing, but not only permanent housing, but have wraparound services for them.”

Air quality concerns and campaigning

A Macon woman wanted to know if Miller planned to encourage Graphic Packaging International to update its equipment to reduce odor from the paper mill. (15:50 on video)

“We constantly are in communication with the EPA, EPD and certainly we’re willing to work with anyone. Graphic Packaging employs a lot of people. They pay a good salary out there. They want to be good stewards, as well,” Miller responded. “And we’re interested in working with both parties to make sure that something be done. If anybody wants to volunteer to come up with some solutions that we can work out, we certainly want to work with everyone we can to make sure our environment’s protected.”

Miller recently launched his re-election campaign in an event at the Capitol Theatre that raised $300,000 and drew people from all parts of town, including some who had previously supported his opponents in 2020, he said. (20:50 on video)

“They said we won over their support based on the way we tried to meet the needs, and do the things we said we were going to do,” Miller said. “If you look all across Bibb County, you’ll see that we have projects that touch each and every part of our community. We’re going to continue to do that.

He predicted 2023 will be a great year for Macon-Bibb County as the Macon Mall amphitheater is under construction and gaining interest from national and international publications promoting the city as a tourist destination.

Miller also said the surplus courtrooms at the mall will be ready in a couple of months, and the new Board of Elections office is expected to open in the summer.

“We’ve got a lot of progress out there,” he said.

Civic Journalism Senior Fellow Liz Fabian covers Macon-Bibb County government entities and can be reached at [email protected] or 478-301-2976.L